'Normal': Documentary Following Migrant Sex Workers in Europe

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With all the conversations on anti-trafficking, we often forget that these are not just concepts and conversations, but complex, lived experiences. The film Normal highlights some of the nuances which are often ignored.

 

Normal, a film by academic Nick Mai, compiles the diverse stories of migrants working in the sex trade in the UK, Italy, and Albania. The film will be followed by a discussion on trafficking with the director and speakers from Safe Horizon and the Sex Workers Project, both of whom work with trafficked persons in New York City.

About the Film

Normal is a 48 minute creative documentary that brings the real life stories of male, female and transgender migrants working in the sex industry to the screen. Drawing on original interviews with people working in the sex industry in Albania, Italy and the UK, documentary director and anthropologist Nicola Mai reveals their unheard voices.

In Tirana we meet Besnik, an Albanian young man who uses violence to stop his women getting under his skin. In Rome, Catalin is a Romanian minor selling sex to other men as it’s the best job he’s ever had. Having used violence in the past, Adrian, a Romanian young man, now respects his working girl to keep himself safe and out of jail. In London there’s Candy, a Romanian young woman who loves her trafficker to the point of getting convicted for controlling. Alina, a Moldovan woman, decides to work independently in the UK sex industry after having been trafficked. We also meet Cynthia, a transgender woman selling sex to feed her estranged family while waiting to fix her papers.

These voices often go against the grain of popular expectations that most migrant sex workers are exploited and forced to sell sex against their will. Confronting these attitudes, Normal uncovers a layered, human story of migration and sex work. What we hear are unexpected, disturbing, sometimes moving and often contradictory life stories. The viewer is continually challenged by the truth of their words, their dreams and the lives that they lead. All the characters are portrayed by actors, guaranteeing the anonymity and safety of the original interviewees and emphasizing the inherently performative nature of selves. By choosing to narrate the histories of 'imperfect' victims and villains and by using actors to embody real research interviews and ethnographic settings, Normal also questions humanitarian and scientific notions of authenticity.

About the Director

Nicola Mai is an Italian ethnographer and filmmaker working as Professor of Sociology and Migration Studies at the Working Lives Research Institute of London Metropolitan University and at LAMES - the Mediterranean Laboratory of Sociology of Aix-Marseille University. His academic writing and films focus on the experiences and perspectives of migrants selling sex and love in the globalized sex industry in order to live their lives. Through experimental ethno-fictions and original research findings Nicola Mai challenges the humanitarian politics of representation of the nexus between migration and sex work in terms of trafficking, while focusing on the ambivalent dynamics of exploitation and self-affirmation that are implicated.